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- Peggy Stewart: Navy Girl at Home - 1/34 -
PEGGY STEWART NAVY GIRL AT HOME
GABRIELLE E. JACKSON AUTHOR OF "SILVER HEELS," "THREE GRACES" SERIES, "CAPT. POLLY" SERIES, ETC.
WITH FRONTISPIECE BY NORMAN ROCKWELL
THIS LITTLE STORY OF ANNAPOLIS IS MOST AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED TO
WHOSE SUNNY SOUL AND CHEERY VOICE HELPED TO MAKE MANY AN HOUR HAPPY FOR THE ONE HE CALLED "LITTLE MOTHER"
I. SPRINGTIDE II. THE EMPRESS III. "DADDY NEIL" IV. IN OCTOBER'S DAYS V. POLLY HOWLAND VI. A FRIENDSHIP BEGINS VII. PEGGY STEWART: CHATELAINE VIII. A SHOCKING DEMONSTRATION OF INTEMPERANCE IX. DUNMORE'S LAST CHRISTMAS X. A DOMESTIC EPISODE XI. PLAYING GOOD SAMARITAN XII. THE SPICE OF PEPPER AND SALT XIII. THE MASQUERADERS' SHOW XIV. OFF FOR NEW LONDON XV. REGATTA DAY XVI. THE RACE XVII. SHADOWS CAST BEFORE XVIII. YOU'VE SPOILED THEIR TEA PARTY XIX. BACK AT SEVERNDALE
"Peggy, Maggie, Mag, Margaret, Marguerite, Muggins. Hum! Half a dozen of them. Wonder if there are any more? Yes, there's Peggoty and Peg, to say nothing of Margaretta, Gretchen, Meta, Margarita, Keta, Madge. My goodness! Is there any end to my nicknames? I mistrust I'm a very commonplace mortal. I wonder if other girls' names can be twisted around into as many picture puzzles as mine can? What do YOU think about it Shashai!" [Footnote: Shashai. Hebrew for noble, pronounced Shash'a-ai.] and the girl reached up both arms to draw down into their embrace the silky head of a superb young colt which stood close beside her; a creature which would have made any horse-lover stop stock-still and exclaim at sight of him. He was a magnificent two-year-old Kentuckian, faultless as to his points, with a head to set an artist rhapsodizing and a-tingle to put it upon his canvas. His coat, mane and tail were black as midnight and glossy as satin. The great, lustrous eyes held a living fire, the delicate nostrils were a-quiver every moment, the faultlessly curved ears alert as a wild creature's. And he WAS half wild, for never had saddle rested upon his back, girth encircled him or bit fretted the sensitive mouth. A halter thus far in his career had been his only badge of bondage and the girl caressing him had been the one to put it upon him. It would have been a bad quarter of an hour for any other person attempting it. But she was his "familiar," though far from being his evil genius. On the contrary, she was his presiding spirit of good.
Just now, as the splendid head nestled confidingly in her circling arms, she was whispering softly into one velvety ear, oh, so velvety! as it rested against her ripe, red lips, so soft, so perfect in their molding. The ear moved slightly back and forth, speaking its silent language. The nostrils emitted the faintest bubbling acknowledgment of the whispered words. The beautiful eyes were so expressive in their intelligent comprehension.
"Too many cooks spoil the broth, Shashai. Too many grooms can spoil a colt. Too many mistresses turn a household topsy-turvy. How about too many names, old boy? Can they spoil a girl? But maybe I'm spoiled already. How about it?" and a musical laugh floated out from between the pretty lips.
The colt raised his head, whinnied aloud as though in denial and stamped one deer-like, unshod fore-hoof as though to emphasize his protest; then he again slid his head back into the arms as if their slender roundness encompassed all his little world.
"You old dear!" exclaimed the girl softly, adding: "Eh, but it's a beautiful world! A wonderful world," and broke into the lilting refrain of "Wonderful world" and sang it through in a voice of singularly, haunting sweetness. But the words were not those of the popular song. They had been written and set to its air by Peggy's tutor.
She seemed to forget everything else, though she continued to mechanically run light, sensitive fingers down the velvety muzzle so close to her face, and semi-consciously reach forth the other hand to caress the head of a superb wolfhound which, upon the first sweet notes, had risen from where she lay not far off to listen, thrusting an insinuating nose under her arm. She seemed to float away with her song, off, off across the sloping, greening fields to the broad, blue reaches of Bound Bay, all a-glitter in the morning sunlight.
She was seated in the crotch of a snake-fence running parallel with the road which ended in a curve toward the east and vanished in a thin-drawn perspective toward the west. There was no habitation, or sign of human being near. The soft March wind, with its thousand earthy odors and promises of a Maryland springtide, swept across the bay, stirring her dark hair, brushed up from her forehead in a natural, wavy pompadour, and secured by a barrette and a big bow of dark red ribbon, the long braid falling down her back tied by another bow of the same color. The forehead was broad and exceptionally intellectual. The eyebrows, matching the dark hair, perfectly penciled. The nose straight and clean- cut as a Greek statue's. The chin resolute as a boy's. The teeth white and faultless. And the eyes? Well, Peggy Stewart's eyes sometimes made people smile, sometimes almost weep, and invariably brought a puzzled frown to their foreheads. They were the oddest eyes ever seen. Peggy herself often laughed and said:
"My eyes seem to perplex people worse than the elephant perplexed the 'six blind men of Hindustan' who went to SEE him. No two people ever pronounce them the same color, yet each individual is perfectly honest in his belief that they are black, or dark brown, or dark blue, or deep gray, or SEA green. Maybe Nature designed me for a chameleon but changed her mind when she had completed my eyes."
Peggy Stewart would hardly have been called a beautiful girl gauged by conventional standards. Her features were not regular enough for perfection, the mouth perhaps a trifle too large, but she was "mightily pleasin' fer to study 'bout," old Mammy insisted when the other servants were talking about her baby.
"Oh, yes," conceded Martha Harrison, the only white woman besides Peggy herself upon the plantation. "Oh, yes, she's pleasing enough, but if her mother had lived she'd never in this world a-been allowed to run wild as a boy, a-getting tanned as black as a--a, darky."
Martha was a most devoted soul who had come from the North with her mistress when that lady left her New England home to journey to Maryland as Commander Stewart's bride. He was only a junior lieutenant then, but that was nearly eighteen years before this story opens. She had not seen many colored people while living in the Massachusetts town in which she had been born and her experience with them was limited to the very few who, after the Civil War, had drifted into it. Of the true Southern negro, especially those of the ante-bellum type, she had not the faintest conception. It had all been a revelation to her. The devotion of the house servants to their "white folks," to whom so many had remained faithful even after liberation, was a never-ending source of wonder to the good soul. Nor could she understand why those old family retainers stigmatized the younger generations as "shiftless, no-account, new-issue niggers." That there could be marked social distinctions among these colored people never occurred to her.
That generations of them had been carefully trained by master and mistress during the days of slavery, and that the younger generations had had no training whatever, was quite beyond Martha's grasp. Colored people were COLORED PEOPLE, and that ended it.
But as the years passed, Martha learned many things. She had her own neatly-appointed little dining-room in her own well-ordered little wing of the great, rambling colonial house which Peggy Stewart called home, a house which could have told a wonderful history of one hundred eighty or more years. We will tell it later on. We have left Peggy too long perched upon her snake-fence with Shashai and Tzaritza.
The lilting song continued to its end and the dog and horse stood as though hypnotized by the melody and the fingers' magnetic touch. Then the song ended as abruptly as it had begun and Peggy slid lightly from her perch to the ground, raised both arms, stretching hands and fingers and inclining her head in a pose which would have thrilled a teacher of "Esthetic Posing" in some fashionable, faddish school, though it was all unstudied upon the girl's part. Then she cried in a wonderfully modulated voice:
"Oh, the joy, joy, joy of just being ALIVE on such a day as this! Of being out in this wonderful world and free, free, free to go and come and do as we want to, Shashai, Tzaritza! To feel the wind, to breathe it in, to smell all the new growing things, to see that water out yonder and the blue overhead. What is it, Dr. Llewellyn says: 'To thank the Lord for a life so sweet.' WE all do, don't we? _I_ can put it into words, or sing it, but you two? Yes, you can make God understand just as well. Let's all thank Him together--you as He has taught you, and I as
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